Air Date: Nov. 18, 1972
Production Companies: Spelling-Goldberg Productions, ABC Circle Films
Running Time: 73 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Joseph Stefano
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Cast: Jessica Walter, Sally Field, Eleanor Parker, Julie Harris, Walter Brennan, Jill Haworth, John Fink, Med Flory
Home for the Holidays (1972) was released on VHS with one of those giant rectangular boxes. I’ll never forget its awful cover art. A mysterious figure in a yellow raincoat held a pitchfork. That was fine (and the killer’s “costume” in the actual movie is fine, as well); however, Sally Field’s head was placed right in the middle of this figure’s body. It was neither anatomically correct nor visually pleasing.
This cheap cover, which I’m sure was meant to capitalize on Field’s role, misrepresents the film, which is actually a solid effort. In fact, it’s one of the best-made and most competent efforts of the early 1970s TV movies I’ve watched for this series. Its strength is also its weakness, though. In being crafted so well, it lacks any sparks or magic. It’s not quite by the book; there are some surprises, but they seem manufactured rather than organic.
Field plays Christine, one of four Morgan sisters that returns home (for the holidays) when their dying, elderly father, Benjamin (Walter Brennan), sends a distress note that his wife, Elizabeth (Julie Harris), is trying to poison him. When the yellow raincoat-clad killer begins poking people with a pitchfork, Christine becomes, in essence, the final girl. One by one, each sister is a target… one by one, each sister is also a stereotype.
Alex (Eleanor Parker) is the big sister who’s miraculously achieved the feat of getting the entire family together from various parts unknown. Frederica (Jessica Walter) is the family drunk. Joanna (Jill Haworth) is the black sheep. They each have reasons for their idiosyncrasies: their mother died under mysterious circumstances several years ago. (Elizabeth is Benjamin’s second wife, whose husband died under mysterious circumstance several years ago.)
There are therefore compelling secrets to be revealed in the teleplay by Joseph Stefano (Psycho.) Knowing Stefano is involved, you naturally assume a twist when the identity of the killer is revealed. The problem is, due to the process of elimination as cast members are killed, as well as the reasonable assumption that it’s not going to be the obvious person, it could be only one person and is therefore not a surprise.
Nevertheless, this is perhaps John Llewellyn Moxey’s (the veteran TV movie director who has appeared in this series multiple times) most impressive effort. I’m going to credit this to the sheen that a Spelling-Goldberg production automatically applies, as well as the fine female cast acting the heck out of their characters. In Home for the Holidays, it's the men for once who are short-changed. Brennan appears in only a few scenes and the “hero,” Ted (John Fink), is barely developed.
The story must take place in California. Instead of Christmas snow, we experience Christmas thunder, lightning, and rain. It’s a little hard for this Midwesterner to reconcile and get into the holiday spirit. Since it’s the note that provides a purpose for the sisters to return home, not the holiday, Christmas is irrelevant. However, it originally aired around Thanksgiving, so why not make it a holiday movie?
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Home for the Holidays as well as all the great movies from this series...